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#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Discussion of Cross Roads and Beginning a Novel

Let’s briefly discuss how to create a good beginning for your novel using Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Tony Spencer does whatever it takes to be a success. When he falls into a coma, he has an experience that allows him to re-evaluate his past behavior. Will he act on his revelations?

Discussion

For the first time in the Bestseller Code 100 challenge, I’m afraid this novel was a DNF — did not finish — for me. For my review I’m going to concentrate on a message I got from a recent SCBWI workshop about how to begin your novel.

Many writing courses suggest capturing a reader’s attention with a big hook in the beginning.  There are some great examples of novels that are able to do this, like Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.

“Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

Talk about grabbing your attention!

At the workshop, Abigail Samoun offered slightly different advice. She said to treat the introduction of your book like you are welcoming the reader into the door of your house. She used a beautiful example of how J. R. R. Tolkien started The Hobbit:

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

She said this first sentence said to the reader, “Come on in, sit down and I’ll tell you a story.”

Other books might use introductions that tease, “Hey, check this out” or “Wait to you see this.” Anything to quickly usher them (the reader/guest) inside.

Once readers have entered, she suggested introducing “yourself” (your main character) right away and giving them a hint of what to expect. Particularly, you want to make them comfortable and eager to stay. I won’t go into all the details, but I really liked the analogy and thought it was something I’d consider for any story opening I write.

The Dilemma

The author had a dilemma in the first part of Cross Roads. He wanted to establish Tony as someone who was an awful person and needed redemption. By making Tony so extremely unlikable, however, the author essentially slammed the door in the reader’s face. Once I learned Tony had re-married his wife just so he could divorce her, I didn’t want to read any further. This was not a character I wanted to spend time with for one more minute, no matter what happened later.

If the author had started a bit earlier in Tony’s life, it would have been better. For example, if he had started the novel at the time when Tony’s parents died, the reader would feel sympathy for him and want to know what happened to Tony. Or, he could have used the age old trick of having Tony be nice to a dog or a child. Anything to allow the reader to root for him a little bit and want to keep reading.

Abigail Samoun gave some good advice. Be a good host to your reader and they will stay with you.

Have you ever read a book that shut you out or made you leave after only a few pages? What books have you not finished?

 

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 67. The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz (2007) – Discussion begins February 5, 2018 — Psychological thriller

Winter 2018 #Bloggiesta: Tune Up Your Blog

Do you have a blog, particularly a book blog?

Time to spruce it up, catch up on those posts you’ve been meaning to write, and get re-energized about blogging by participating in the winter 2018 mini-Bloggiesta from February 3-4, 2018. Sign-ups are here.

 

blog party

What is Bloggiesta?

Bloggiesta is an online party where you find tips to get your blog organized, take challenges to learn new things, and — best of all — meet some awesome book bloggers!

My 2018 To Do List

  • Update the Bestseller Code 100 Reading Challenge Book List into June.
  • Check the sidebars on all my blogs for outdated text and widgets.
    • I took off the blogrolls on my oldest blogs. Does anyone still do those? They become outdated so quickly.
  • Make a few upgrades to my Roberta Gibson Writes website.
  • Cross-post some reviews to GoodReads, etc.
  • Visit and comment on other Bloggiesta participants’ blogs.
  •  Check out the past challenges for more ideas.
  • Revise this list as I think of more things.
  • Should back up all my blogs ASAP.

Time to get busy.

 

Summary:  I accomplished more than I thought I would, even though life got in my way yesterday. Three projects that seemed to be nearly completed took sideways turns on me and will now require significantly more work. Guess it was better to find the issues before they are submitted rather than afterwards, but it was still a bit disheartening.

Hope you all have had a fun and productive Bloggiesta.

 

tuning-up-your-blog

#BookBeginnings The City of Brass

Today we’re reading The City of Brass: A Novel (The Daevabad Trilogy) by S. A Chakraborty for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-button-The City of Brass

The City of Brass: A Novel* (The Daevabad Trilogy) by S. A Chakraborty

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:

Living in eighteenth-century Cairo, Nahri is a multilingual con woman. She has never had a reason to believe in magic, at least not until she accidentally summons a mysterious djinn warrior named Dara during one of her scams. Now Nahri is forced to reconsider both her beliefs and her place in the world.

This is S. A Chakraborty debut fantasy novel. It is the first of The Daevabad Trilogy.

First Sentence of The City of Brass:

He was an easy mark.

Nahri smiled behind her veil, watching the two men bicker as they approached her stall.

Discussion:

I really like the main character’s voice so far. She’s quite smart and cunning. It’s also set in an interesting time and place, at least at the beginning.

I don’t read a lot of fantasy, but a friend who loves books lent me her copy (Thanks, Shan.) I’m looking forward to reading more.

What do you think? Have you read The City of Brass? Do you think you might enjoy it?

#amreading Eat Cake by Jeanne Ray

A lovely woman from my writers’ group passed me a copy Eat Cake by Jeanne Ray (2003) last week. “You have to read it,” she said. She was right!

Eat Cake* by Jeanne Ray

(Amazon Affiliate link)

Main character Ruth is the position so many people find themselves. She is at the point of her life when her children are about to fly from the nest when suddenly her parents can no longer live on their own and move in with her. To complicate matters, Ruth’s parents are divorced and her mom can’t stand the sight of her dad. Add the fact her husband is unexpectedly laid off after twenty years, and chaos is bound to ensue.

Jeanne Ray does an excellent job of setting up a believable scenario. In fact, because it told from the first person point of view, this book reads like a memoir. The voice is just the right tone of light humor, what you’d expect from someone who manages to see the ridiculousness of the situation she finds herself in.

Public domain photo from Best Running

The Cakes

The title comes from Ruth’s tendency to bake cakes when she’s stressed. Under these circumstances, she bakes a lot of them. It is best not to read this book on an empty stomach.

If you would also like to bake the cakes Jeanne Ray mentions, the back matter has over ten full recipes, ranging from Almond Apricot to Lemon Layer cake. The paperback copy I read also included a Reader’s Guide.

That’s not to say the story is absolute perfection. Although I don’t want to give away details, the ending was not as clean as the set up in the beginning, and the wrap up of the husband’s story was probably the weakest.

Regardless, Eat Cake is a sweet confection that doesn’t take long to read and leaves you with a satisfied feeling. Pick up a slice copy today.

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  The Goldfinch (2014) is Tartt’s third novel, following her critically acclaimed debut novel The Secret History (1992) and The Little Friend (2003).  Observe the number of years between each publication date; Tartt takes her time, writing large novels, both in length and in scope.

This post contains spoilers.

The Goldfinch* by Donna Tartt

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Bildungsroman

When I finish a book, I like to read other descriptions and reviews. Sometimes those reviews gel the thoughts and feelings I had while reading the novel, while other times I disagree entirely with the reviewer. While reading through a few reviews for The Goldfinch, I came across a new term (to me): bildungsroman.  Merriam-Webster provides this definition:

literature : a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character – a bildungsroman by Charles Dickens

This is certainly an apt description for The Goldfinch, as Tartt leads the main character, Theo Decker, on a decade long journey of life-altering catastrophes, emotional and physical upheavals, grief, and survivor’s guilt, providing plenty of opportunities for moral and psychological growth. As a reader, Theo drew me in from the very beginning, and I followed his journey avidly, hoping he would make it through the storms, while preparing myself for the possibility that he would not.

Descriptive Power

Tartt is a master at descriptive prose. Here we see one of the antagonists, Lucius Reeve, for the first time:

Though he was tight and elegant in his speech and gestures, and his suit was modishly cut for a man his age, his demeanor made me think of a puffer fish—or, alternately, a cartoon strongman or Mountie blown up by a bicycle pump: cleft chin, doughball nose, tense slit of a mouth, all bunched tight in the center of a face which glowed a plump, inflamed, blood-pressure pink.

Usually long passages of description cause me to skim the text, anxious to get to the real action, but this was not the case with The Goldfinch. I soaked up Tartt’s descriptions like a sponge, reveling in the tastes and smells and sights she provided, even when they were unpleasant or painful.

For unknown reasons, the gust of energy that had swept me up and fizzed me around all summer had dropped me hard, mid-October, into a drizzle of sadness that stretched endlessly in every direction: with a very few exceptions (Kitsey, Hobie, Mrs. Barbour) I hated being around people, couldn’t pay attention to what anyone was saying, couldn’t talk to clients, couldn’t tag my pieces, couldn’t ride the subway, all human activity seemed pointless, incomprehensible, some blackly swarming ant hill in the wilderness, there was not a squeak of light anywhere I looked, the antidepressants I’d been dutifully swallowing for eight weeks hadn’t helped a bit, nor had the ones before that (but then, I’d tried them all; apparently I was among the twenty percent of unfortunates who didn’t get the daisy fields and the butterflies but the Severe Headaches and the Suicidal Thoughts); and though the darkness sometimes lifted just enough so I could construe my surroundings, familiar shapes solidifying like bedroom furniture at dawn, my relief was never more than temporary because somehow the full morning never came, things always went black before I could orient myself and there I was again with ink poured in my eyes, guttering around in the dark.

Doesn’t sound like a man engaged to be married and dizzy in love, does it?

By the way, that passage above? It’s all one sentence! The editor side of my brain sure had a tough time while reading The Goldfinch, but Tartt makes it work. The pain and depression that Theo feels would not come across nearly so well in nice, neat, short sentences, would it?

Truisms and Real Literature

Some of the reviews I read blasted The Goldfinch for not being “real literature” because the novel explained too much to the reader and didn’t require said reader to have to analyze the book for its underlying message. The last chapter presents several “truisms” that Theo has come to realize from his bildungsroman, and they are spelled out for the reader. These reviews included long rants about what the term “real literature” means, what makes a book “serious” and “literary” rather than merely a contemporary novel, quickly read and easily forgotten. The same discussion occurs with art. What is art? What makes it art? Tartt addresses this:

You see one painting, I see another, the art book puts it at another remove still, the lady buying the greeting card at the museum gift shop sees something else entire, and that’s not even to mention the people separated from us by time—four hundred years before us, four hundred years after we’re gone—it’ll never strike anybody the same way and the great majority of people it’ll never strike in any deep way at all but—a really great painting is fluid enough to work its way into the mind and heart through all kinds of different angles, in ways that are unique and very particular.

In the end, art is whatever makes us, as individuals, feel. Literature is the same. It challenges us individually. It speaks to us individually. It affects us individually. For me, The Goldfinch is definitely literature, worthy of the time it took to read. It’s a book that I will think about and mull over for weeks to come, and one that I will quite likely read again.

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 68. Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young (2012) – Discussion begins January 22, 2018
Christian fiction

#BestsellerCode100: Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listCross Roads by Wm. Paul Young.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Tony Spencer does whatever it takes to be a success. When he falls into a coma, he has an experience that allows him to re-evaluate his past behavior. Will he act on his revelations?

Cross Roads is considered to be Christian fiction. From the back, quote from Chapter 6:

Jesus reached over and took Tony’s hand. “On this journey, you can choose to physically heal one person, but only one, and when you make that selection, your journey will end.”

 

Have you read Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 67. The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz (2007) – Discussion begins February 5, 2018 — Psychological thriller

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

At 771 pages, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is in many ways a magnum opus. It is also a massive treasure trove for writers. Let’s delve in and see what we discover.

This post contains spoilers.

The Goldfinch* by Donna Tartt

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:   Thirteen-year-old Theo Decker survives the blast that kills his mother. Because his father has disappeared, he is taken in by a friend’s family. Struggling with his grief and the changes that have occurred, the teenager clings to a small painting that reminds him of his mother. As he finds his way to adulthood over the next ten years, the artwork becomes both a comfort and a curse.

The Goldfinch took Donna Tartt a decade to write. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013.

Plot/Genre

As literary fiction, this novel checks all the boxes. It is more character driven than plot driven and devotes a great deal of time to the main character’s inner life, including  pages of discussions of Theo’s mental anguish. That said, the novel does have a well-developed — if sometimes meandering — plot to keep the reader engaged. Throughout, the mystery of the painting lies at the central backbone of the book.

As expected in this type of fiction, the writing is lush and polished. Every word feels like it has been carefully chosen and then coddled, until it has grown into a perfect sentence. The vocabulary is also superbly elevated. For example, the word “inwrought” in the first sentence isn’t in spellcheck. Tartt’s word choice allows the nerdiest of us to flaunt our lexicons.

Literary fiction is defined by its revelations about the human condition, and this novel has more than its share. In the last section, profound wisdom is unsheathed, with page after page of quote-worthy insights.

That life – whatever else it is – is short. That fate is cruel but maybe not random. That Nature (meaning Death) always wins but that doesn’t mean we have to bow and grovel to it. That maybe even if we’re not always so glad to be here, it’s our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open. And in the midst of our dying, as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch.

Donna Tartt’s musings about art are especially enthralling.

—if a painting really works down in your heart and changes the way you see, and think, and feel, you don’t think, ‘oh, I love this picture because it’s universal.’ ‘I love this painting because it speaks to all mankind.’ That’s not the reason anyone loves a piece of art. It’s a secret whisper from an alleyway. Psst, you. Hey kid. Yes you.

 

Character

None of the characters in this novel are simple. We learn on the very first page that the main character, Theo, is an unreliable narrator, yet we are drawn to him.  He wanders through life, propelled by his friend and sidekick, Boris, an alcoholic who boldly walks on the wild side, and yet tries to protect and take care of Theo like he’s a lost puppy.

Theo’s mentor and father-figure, Hobie, seems to be honest and upright, yet he remains loyal and loving regardless of how Theo tests him with dishonesty. Each character surprises us.

Setting

Donna Tartt’s descriptions are masterful and fully integrated. They never take the reader out of the story.

Theo grows up in New York City and spends most of his life there. The descriptions of New York are richly drawn and visceral, from the cold, damp weather to the odor inside a taxi.

Along Park Avenue, ranks of red tulips stood at attention as we sped by.

When Theo’s father takes him to Las Vegas, we sense the glare and heat. With strip malls arising out of blocks of stucco homes, the author captures a feeling of emptiness and disconnection.

The sky was wide and trackless…

Most of Theo’s time in Amsterdam is spent huddled in his hotel room, but he does encounter canals, bridges, cobblestones, and bicycles, giving us a flavor of the place.

Themes and Symbolism

As would be expected from a prominent work of literary fiction, the reader could spend a lifetime investigating the themes and symbols in this book. The main themes include the value of art, what defines a family, and what is love. The fact Theo was thrown into taking care of himself at an early age explores a theme of premature adulthood. Spirituality comes into play, too.

Discussion

According to an interview, Donna Tartt’s goal for writing a novel is to give her reader the opportunity to get lost in a book. If that is true, she has more than succeeded. To me, reading the first half was like gliding a knife through soft butter. It was so smooth that it was effortless. I looked up and a hundred pages had flown by.

As Theo’s mental stability wavers in the middle, however, so does the readability. I found the section in the hotel room in Amsterdam to be particularly difficult. By then, I was committed to find out what happened to him, so I plowed through to the end. It helped to realize the author’s jumbled writing reflected Theo’s delirium and mixed-up thoughts.

Part of why the story is so compelling is because Donna Tartt is a magician at setting up “little mysteries” through foreshadowing. For example, Theo goes to meet his fiancee Kitsey and she is “held up.” Her brother Platt awkwardly makes an explanation. Theo is confused, but doesn’t seem too concerned. The reader wonders what that was all about. A short time later all is revealed when we learn Kitsey is in love with, and secretly meeting, an old friend/enemy named Tom.

Of the Pulitzer Prize winners we have read so far, this one is the first that I truly enjoyed and the first where I didn’t have to figure out why it deserved the award. This is a truly magnificent novel.

 

Have you read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 68. Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young (2012) – Discussion begins January 22, 2018
Christian fiction

#BookBeginnings Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young

Today we should be starting the next novel in The Bestseller Code 100 challengeCross Roads by Wm. Paul Young for Book Beginnings on Fridays.  (We’re both still reading The Goldfinch).

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-button-hurwitz

Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Tony Spencer does whatever it takes to be a success. When he falls into a coma, he has an experience that allows him to re-evaluate his past behavior. Will he act on his revelations?

Cross Roads is considered to be Christian fiction. From the back, quote from Chapter 6:

Jesus reached over and took Tony’s hand. “On this journey, you can choose to physically heal one person, but only one, and when you make that selection, your journey will end.”

First Sentence:

Some years in Portland, Oregon, winter is a bully, spitting sleet and spewing snow in fits and starts as it violently wrestles days from spring, claiming some archaic right to remain king of the seasons — ultimately the vain attempt of another pretender.

Discussion:

I like the alliteration of splitting sleet and spewing snow. I was a bit confused about the last part.

It continues:

This year was not like that. Winter simply bowed out like a beaten woman, leaving head down in tattered garments of dirty whites and browns with barely a whimper or promise of return. The difference between her presence and absence was scarcely discernible.

The Bestseller Code Challenge is definitely introducing us to a wide diversity of books. This is so different from The Goldfinch. It will be interesting to compare the two novels to see how they both ended up on the same list.

#BookBeginnings The Curse of La Fontaine by M. L. Longworth

Today we’re reading a slow-paced mystery, The Curse of La Fontaine by M. L. Longworth for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-button-hurwitz

The Curse of La Fontaine by M. L. Longworth

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Set in Aix-en-Provence, France, newlyweds Verlaque and Bonnet are drawn into investigating when a new restaurant in the neighborhood tries to expand and runs into a historical mystery.

First Sentence:

Antoine Verlaque liked die Corallini so much he almost regretted that his wedding was going to be so small.

Discussion:

M. L. Longworth continues on with a discussion of the history and architecture of the church.

I picked this up as an impulse at the library. It is part of a series. The French setting was what drew me to it, and it seems like that is going to be a big part of the book.

Have you ever picked up a book to transport yourself to another place?

Do you have a favorite book that immerses you in a novel setting?

The Funny Little Errors in The Goldfinch

I have been noting little errors and inconsistencies while reading The Goldfinch, and I thought I’d document them. This doesn’t mean I don’t like the book. I love the book. The quirky flaws make it even more precious to me.

By the way, this isn’t a full review. I haven’t even finished the book yet.

 

The first inconsistency is right on the first page. Main character Theo says he doesn’t know a word of Dutch, then a few sentences away he refers to the people as dames en heren, which is Dutch for ladies and gentlemen. This particular error is probably intentional and tells the alert reader that Theo is a bit of an unreliable narrator.

Later errors are probably not intentional. For example, in the hardcover version on pages 248-249 Theo and his friend Boris go shoplifting at a “discount supermarket” for “…steaks for us, butter, boxes of tea, cucumbers…” Shoplifting at a grocery or convenience store wasn’t an unreasonable scenario, and I didn’t think a thing of it until Donna Tartt reveals the store:  Costco. I burst out laughing. Costco is a mega warehouse store that only sells in bulk. The packages all contain multiple items. You wouldn’t steal a single steak, you’d have to hide an enormous pack of five steaks. Then you’d have to get them past the security check. Costco stations people at the door to look you over and read through your list ticking off your purchases. Let’s just say it isn’t likely Boris and Theo would shoplift at Costco if there were any alternatives, which there were.

My husband does woodworking, so I immediately noticed on page 418 that Hobie is using “cramps” to hold his wood together. British and Australian woodworkers use cramps. In America — and presumably New York City — we call them clamps.

The Bigger Picture

A lot of readers have noted that the drinking age isn’t eighteen as suggested in the book, but is in fact twenty-one. Maybe Tart was channeling her own inner teenager, which was from an earlier time?

Other reviewers have also pointed out errors in the technology used at various points. I’m a bit more forgiving about these because let’s face it, it took the author ten years to write the novel and technology changed so much during that period. With some 771 pages to keep track of, I would be more surprised if she had been able to stay consistent.

To me, all these little imperfections are rather like the scuff marks on a fine piece of antique furniture or the bubbles in a delicate pane of old glass. They give the novel a unique character.

That said, I’d like to let Donna Tartt know that if she needs a fact checker for her next novel, I’d be more than willing to volunteer.

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